You Can’t Have Family-Friendly Cities Without Kid-Friendly Streets

Playing road hockey in Vancouver. Photo:
Playing road hockey in Vancouver. Photo: Pete/Flickr

More American cities are making room for people to live in downtown areas — even smaller cities like Tucson, Cleveland and Fort Wayne, Indiana. But generally the target demographics are young singles and empty nesters. A lot of cities assume that all parents who can move to the suburbs will do so.

Writer Darin Givens, who lives with his wife and young children in downtown Atlanta, says it doesn’t need to be that way. There are now between 5,600 and 7,000 kids living in downtown Vancouver, he writes in a post at Medium. He explains how the city went about making a downtown that works for parents and kids:

Vancouver’s Chief Planner from 2006 to 2012 says there are three elements of family-friendly city design that helped out: bigger housing, amenities for families, and a safe, welcoming public realm (emphasis ours).

As a Downtown Atlanta father of a school-aged kid, I can vouch for those ideas.

We picked the one spot where we could find one of the precious few spacious (by Downtown standards, not by suburban standards) apartments near public space and greenery. The neighborhood could use a lot more of those.

Safe and welcoming? Downtown Atlanta can stand to make some big improvements there.

The advice comes from a Brent Toderian interview at Vox that’s worth reading in full. But much of downtown Atlanta, where Givens lives, is dominated by parking lots — not the kind of amenities that attract families.

More recommended reading today: TransitCenter has an update on Denver’s renewed attention to improving bus service and walking access to transit. And Green Caltrain reports that Palo Alto is planning to hike commuter parking fees to fund transit and other service to reduce driving, but the price would still be far less than the price for equivalent transit passes.

  • Southeasterner

    It’s always a bit depressing to see empty downtown streets with the exception of weekdays between 8:00-9:30AM, 11:30-1:30, and 4:00-6:00 PM. All other times you probably have a better chance of meeting another human being in the middle of a wheat field in Nebraska. Kids add a vibrancy to a downtown that is sorely missing in the U.S. but the biggest issue for most of us parents is finding housing!

    Developers make money on single young adults or older couples who like the walkability of downtown but only need a studio or one-bedroom. If you are in the market for a 2+ bedroom in many West Coast cities you are generally out of luck or better have a household annual income of $250,000+. The building next to us used to be 2-3 bedroom apartments but the owner gutted it and turned it into 100% studios. Most of our friends with kids who have left Seattle haven’t done so because of lack of schools or amenities, it is the lack of available housing. Americans tend to belittle Europeans for their tiny urban apartments but 2+ bedrooms are surprisingly much easier to find in London, Paris, Madrid, Munich, and Amsterdam than in many U.S. metro areas.

  • Vooch

    until the late 1970s children routinely played in the street

  • All of this, but also the scale. Many European urban communities don’t have massive developments, they have a lot of individual buildings that have been added to or subdivided. That keeps things affordable for families, especially by allowing them to rent out a portion of their home that helps them afford to stay in it in an otherwise expensive area.

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